"The Tortured Artist", Part One, By Kirk Stacey

"The Tortured Artist", Part One.

I am a natural born creative. I fell out of my mother’s womb with a crayon in my hand. I love Art, and every aspect of creating a portrait. Each step has a buzz, a rewarding feeling. I am very lucky to actually earn from it. My talent has never let me down, it has always been my friend, guiding me even when life was tough. Sadly life has been tough for me, it is never plain sailing when you have a wrecking ball of a disorder such as OCD.

So…how does OCD affect my work? Does it interfere? Well, of course! Every step of the damn way!  And we start with the very "idea" of a portrait.  When I have an idea for a portrait, this could be the simplest idea for a cartoon or something I have to make for a client, that simple first thought has to be "Made Safe". This process of making safe comes in the form of me pulling a " positive" "good" thought from my mind’s wonderful repertoire of "Good times". I then use the good thought (this could be a mental image of a good experience, friend, an actor, actress, anything as long as it is associated with "good" ) and associate / connect this good thought to the idea I have for the portrait I want to produce.  If I do not do this, my form of protecting the idea, then without a doubt OCD will taint the idea with whatever obsession or theme I have at current and then the ideas is lost! Tainted! A total no go! And that really is not good when you have to create to earn.  How am I going to be a successful artist and earn, when all the great ideas for creating work, are left uncreated? Left in the hands of the monster that is OCD, the tainter of ideas and the stealer of dreams.

This is a mental battle I have gone through for many, many years. I simply cannot tolerate going forward with an idea that has been tainted by OCD. If I do then I experience anxiety all the way and the end result becomes something I will never want to see or keep. Sadly, because I have reinforced this process my mind really puts up a tug of war against what I ultimately want to create. I have to protect the path forward with every single detail and every single aspect, material and choice has to be the ‘right’ one. Here is a problem. How do I ever get started? I remember a hot summer years ago when I walked 4 miles to a local stationary store to buy a piece of cardboard for an art piece. I will take you there…

With the idea 100 per cent made safe all I have to do now is get started, all I have to do is go to the shop, buy a piece of cardboard, pay for it, and leave. Simple? I walk for miles in the heat and it’s safe to say that by the time I get to the store I am triggered and anticipating a mental arm wrestle.

I make it to the store and again I am making the piece of cardboard safe in my head. However, OCD is now in its element of trying to influence me, it wants to unhook the positive and enforce the negative. All of this is happening in my head, the cashier does not know the extent of emotional turmoil I am going through. As I stand, gripping the piece of card, I am sweating, anxious and my BP is high. I am jittery but still managing to hide this from the outside world. OCD at this point is overwhelming, it is swaying me big time, it is telling me that the card is bad and it is throwing negative twisting thoughts to taint what I have bought. It wants to destroy the idea I have and totally close this artistic avenue, it wants to destroy the path I am on to create.

I stand firm in the faith of the positive thought I have connected to the material I have just brought, I want to win this, I want to pay for it and walk out the shop and walk home. I want to get home, take a breather, start work and feel I have won over my OCD. I manage to pay for the card and I leave the shop but my OCD is pushing so hard on me I literally feel so angry with my enemy, I feel I am possessed and there is something in me I want gone, eradicated, but I can’t do it. This is my life. I walk less than a mile from the shop. I keep walking trying to stay focused, trying to find the middle grey ground mentally but my brain is locked into the black. I keep walking, I hold the card and slowly start to tear it to bits and dump it into a nearby bin. I walk home totally defeated, drained, angry and hurt. The OCD dissipates slowly. I feel so useless and powerless and I am traumatised. I have this force inside me that wants to derail my dreams, it’s like it knows what I want, and it will stop me getting to my destination. This force grows and grows and totally entrenches my mind and robs me of Joy. When I create I am at my happiest, I love everything about the process of creation and sometimes when I look at what I have created the feeling is incredible. This feeling can’t be bought, this feeling makes me happy. But my monster does not want me to be happy.

If OCD had its say it would have said "Ha! I won that!”. I think off the back of those events I feel  anger, not wanting it to happen again. I tell myself I will beat this but the thing is it will occur again, it will be just a case of whether I am lucky in winning the game of snap in my head. I remember that there was one point where OCD did top the above aforementioned "trauma trip". I totally detested art shows and exhibitions, I found them to be boring, no fun, and they pushed my stress level through the roof. But I still found myself taking part in one and again I had to buy materials. I knew how my OCD would play out so I enlisted the help and support of a friend to come with me. However, the OCD that day was monumental. I found it to be the most painful experience in my life. OCD was tainting all the materials but I tried to quickly rummage through my brain to find a positive good thought to protect all the materials I needed to buy but I could not find or focus on one decent thought, OCD tainted them all! I was totally powerless, I stood stalled just staring at a rack of cardboard I could not choose. OCD won. It had tainted the whole isle. My friend nudged me, "come on!", time was ticking on and I was being rushed to make my choice. But I was lost. I felt I had lost the power of choice completely. I walked out the shop like a zombie. I was numb, OCD had won again.

"When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man."

That quote from the bible has always stuck with me and it is the perfect description that sums up what happened to me that day. Those incidents showcased how powerful ‘Pure-O’ is. ‘Pure-O’ is the internal form of OCD, it has no outward components. All the pain, all the rituals and all the anxiety is happening inside the head. I look back and I see in my head the bin with my torn card in it. That shows what damage and destruction an unsettled misfiring brain can cause. But today I try not to arm wrestle with OCD I simply have to allow the brain to kick off. My making safe was / is nothing more than ‘magical thinking’. The incidents were painful and powerful, because I was not manging the OCD well. Being compelled to ‘make things safe’ was a compulsion. This, in turn, triggered OCD more, I should never have stoked the fire. But I will admit that making safe is a ritual I still do, but try not to. Letting it be there is very hard, as soon as a good idea comes I want to protect it, because every idea is a potential path you can build that will lead somewhere. Think of all the paths that OCD has stolen. Today I accept that I have to let OCD have its say without paying too much attention to it. In the old days I wasted lots of time, energy and ideas. These days things are different, every art piece I create stands as a victory over OCD , it stands! It is never lost, it is not in a bin, it stands! And it brings me and others joy.

I win!

Kirk Stacey